Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 31.djvu/30
more contemptible dauber than Kent, has not been reversed since. William Mason, in the ‘English Garden,’ praises Kent's landscape gardening at the expense of his painting; and even Horace Walpole, who regarded him as a genius in other branches of art, tells us that Kent's portraits ‘bore little resemblance to the persons who sat for them, and the colouring was worse,’ and that ‘in his ceilings Kent's drawing was as defective as the colouring of his portraits, and as void of every merit.’ He adds that Sir Robert Walpole would not permit him to work in colours at Houghton, but restrained him to chiaroscuro. His portrait-painting was also the theme of a witty epigram by Lord Chesterfield:—
As to Apelles, Ammon's son
Would only deign to sit;
So, to thy pencil, Kent! alone
Will Brunswick's form submit!
Equal your envied wonders! save
This difference we see,
One would no other painter have—
No other would have thee.
Hogarth did not spare him or his patron. In two plates, ‘Masquerades and Operas, Burlington Gate’ (1724), and ‘The Man of Taste’ (1732)—the Man of Taste was Burlington, not Kent—he introduced the statue of Kent surmounting the gate of Burlington House, and supported on a lower level by those of Raphael and Michael Angelo; and in his ‘Burlesque on Kent's Altar-piece at St. Clement's’ (St. Clement Danes in the Strand, 1725) he caricatured without mercy the feeble composition and bad draughtsmanship, which had already led Bishop Gibson to order its removal from the church. But Kent was able by his influence at court to retaliate upon Hogarth by preventing him from executing a portrait group of the royal family and other works (see ‘Notes by George Vertue’ in the Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23076, p. 66).
Nevertheless Kent easily made his way in high society by his winning manners and the authority with which he spoke on questions of art, and he soon became the fashionable oracle in all matters of taste. His skill in design was so prized that, according to Horace Walpole, ‘he was not only consulted for furniture, as frames of pictures, glasses, tables, chairs, &c., but for plate, for a barge, for a cradle. And so impetuous was fashion that two great ladies prevailed on him to make designs for their birthday gowns. The one he dressed in a petticoat decorated with columns of the five orders; the other like a bronze, in a copper-coloured satin with ornaments of gold.’
When he first seriously turned his attention to architecture is not clearly ascertained, but he probably began at an early date to assist the Earl of Burlington in his architectural designs; and in 1727, with the assistance of his lordship, he published two folio volumes of the ‘Designs of Inigo Jones,’ with a few by the earl and himself, and one by Palladio, the master and guide of them all. Kent's designs in this volume were mostly of chimneypieces and doors, but included one for a royal art gallery, in which panels for paintings alternated with niches for sculpture. Many of the nobility and some of the royal family were among the subscribers to this handsome work.
Kent went a second time to Rome, before 1719, and in 1730 he paid a third visit there to study architecture and buy pictures for Lord Burlington. It was perhaps on this occasion that he acquired the collection of engravings formed by his old master Luti, who had died in 1724. After his return he added largely to his reputation as an architect and a landscape gardener. He altered and decorated Kensington Palace, of which the staircase was thought by Horace Walpole to be ‘the least defective work of his pencil.’ He built the Horse Guards and the block of treasury buildings (the central portion of a design never fully executed) which overlook the parade at Whitehall. Devonshire House in Piccadilly, the Earl of Yarborough's in Arlington Street, and Holkham, Norfolk, the seat of the Earl of Leicester, are also examples of his skill in the Palladian style, and do more than any other of his existing works to justify the high patronage which he enjoyed.
Despite his poor ability he was selected to execute the statue of Shakespeare for Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, and was appointed principal painter to the crown after the death of Charles Jervas [q. v.] in 1739. Besides this office he held those of master-carpenter, architect, and keeper of the pictures, all of which, together with a pension of 100l. a year for his works at Kensington Palace, brought him an income of 600l. ‘Kent's style,’ says Walpole, ‘predominated authoritatively during his life.’ He was still engaged on his most important and favourite work (Holkham) when he died at Burlington House of an attack of inflammation in the bowels on 12 April 1748. He was buried ‘in a very handsome manner’ in Lord Burlington's vault at Chiswick. ‘His fortune,’ says Walpole, ‘which with pictures and books amounted to about 10,000l., he divided between his relations and an actress, with whom he had long lived in particular friendship.’
It is only as an architect that Kent's artistic reputation now survives. If, as has